Hartland discusses adding school resource officer

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 7/10/2019 4:50:34 PM

HARTLAND — Following what school officials described as threatening behavior by some students and parents in the past two years, the School Board is considering a school resource officer assigned to Hartland Elementary School.

The board presented the idea at a discussion Tuesday night attended by about 50 people. Christine Bourne, principal of the K-8 school, said the incidents included threats by students against other students and a parent threatening harm to a teacher, requiring a state police presence. Hartland does not have a police force and contracts with state police for coverage.

“The incidents have exposed a vulnerability and caused significant stress and an unsettled feeling among staff and students,” Bourne said.

While Bourne and the School Board praised state police for their response and assistance, sometimes it can take an hour for officers to arrive. Other times they simply do not have an available trooper.

“That is one of the biggest issues for a school resource officer,” said School Board Chairwoman Nicki Buck, who also told the audience that some incidents during the last two months of school “really scared a lot of parents and staff,” though she did not provide specifics.

The board said a local school resource officer, a uniformed police officer who would play a variety of supportive roles, could be on scene in about five minutes.

One of the “unsettling” incidents happened in early May and was described in a post on the town’s email list by Assistant Principal Brittany Preston. She said the caller was known to the school but was not connected to any student. Questions by the caller about the school’s security raised concerns about a threat, and state police were called, she said.

“While we can’t provide any further details of the incident, at no time were any students, staff members, or community members at risk,” Preston said in the post on Hartland’s email list.

On Wednesday, Buck said the caller has “history of violence” and his questions about people in the school made some feel threatened.

“I don’t think the school overreacted given the history of the individual, but there was no direct threat,” she said.

Buck also said school officials have obtained a few “no trespass orders” to parents.

The audience Tuesday seemed generally supportive of a school resource officer, with several saying one was needed.

“The professionals in this school are telling you your children are not safe,” parent Nicolette Raney said. “I feel we need to support them and back them.”

A good portion of the discussion was about funding the position and whether the school should share the SRO from the Windsor Police Department, who also spends time at the Albert Bridge Elementary School in Brownsville. Raney suggested discussing an SRO with Hartford police because they are closer to the elementary school.

Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union Superintendent David Baker said he expects there would be enough money in the current budget for such a position, in part because the school has a number of new teachers lower on the salary scale.

The exact cost to Hartland has yet to be determined, Buck said Wednesday. She said the board discussed the input at a board meeting following the public forum.

“We are still moving toward a school resource officer but have not made a decision yet,” Buck said.

Windsor Police Chief Bill Sampson explained the role of an SRO — which many had questions about — emphasizing that it is not about law enforcement nor being “an occupying force” at the school.

“The SRO is a presence in the school but acts more like a mentor and safety officer,” he said. “The administration runs the school, and our job is to support the administration. As far as discipline, we leave that to the school.”

Bourne listed some of the ways an SRO would engage students including problem-solving with parents, sitting with students at lunch or being present during recess and school assemblies. They also might be a guest speaker for health and guidance classes.

Bourne said the SRO develops strong relationships with students and can make staff feel more comfortable.

“I think that is a proactive approach,” Bourne said.

What is needed, school officials said, is someone who can quickly “de-escalate” situation that staff are not trained to handle, before a more serious problem arises.

Hartland Elementary School has taken some steps to improve safety including a double-buzzer system to enter the school, and there are plans to install a new camera system that gives a better view of the outside the school. There also have been discussions of shifting the main office to the special education intervention room so the main door would be visible to office personnel.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

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